We Can Become Known

I was reading blogs from bed in the wee hours this morning, alternately as a way to entertain myself without having to leave the comfort of my pillow and as a way to stop myself from beating Onion, the cat who cannot, will not, and won't stop scratching at our door in the morning to get some of our sweet, sweet loving. Oh my god I hate him so much right now.

This is Onion, taken from under the bedroom door.

This is Onion, taken from under the bedroom door.

Anyway, I was reading an older entry of Maggie Mason's about Tina Fey's Bossypants, and this quote caught me. I haven't read the book myself, so this is a quote of Maggie's quote, and so we go down the internet rabbit hole, Alice:

Amy… did something vulgar as a joke. I can't remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and "unladylike."
Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, "Stop that! It's not cute! I don't like it!"
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. "I don't fucking care if you don't like it." Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit…
With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn't there to be cute. She wasn't there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys' scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.
I was so happy. Weirdly, I remember thinking, "My friend is here! My friend is here!" Even though things had been going great for me at the show, with Amy there, I felt less alone.

After reading that, I thought in a very loud internal voice EXACTLY. We, especially the women among us, are generally taught to please, appease, and ingratiate ourselves. Growing up, when I was sad, I was told that nobody is friends with a sad girl. When I was angry, I was told I was being manipulative. When I wanted to do something that required others to step out of their way to help me do it, I was often met with admonishments about my tendency toward impracticality and selfishness. It was clear that I was to be pleasant and pleasing, to serve others' happiness above my own, and to not make too much noise.

I have railed against this treatment my whole life. It has wounded my heart and my head, casting doubt upon the boundaries of my own needs and desires. It not only blurs the boundaries, but it also throws off our reasonable sense of balance between our own and others' needs. It confuses us enough to yoke us to subservience. We become cattle in a system that only honours us insofar as it can use us.

As much as I have railed against it, though, I am caught in it, too. It's a deep indoctrination bred through years of family, school, work, and social relations, so the kneejerk response to please another over myself still insinuates itself into the way I work, feel, think, and create.

I realized yesterday that this is why I dislike so much of Pinterest's content*. There is something extremely dissociative about Pinterest. I was browsing through pictures people had pinned there, and even though I know some of the people pinning quite personally, their content on Pinterest was distancing and often downright offputting.

Why is it so distancing? It's distancing because most of the pinning going on isn't actually about what that individual likes or wants; most of the pinning going on is about what that person perceives others will value. That person on Pinterest will never create those twee mini-cakes with the flawless icing and the tiny, ornate birds made of drizzled chocolate, and they don't even actually want to, and you, in turn, wouldn't even actually want to eat them, because fondant is nearly inedible. Those pins are about putting those isolated examples of orderly perfection in relation to ourselves like costumes. If our lives were paper dolls, pins on Pinterest would be the paper clothing bent around us.

This is an actual cupcake whose icing I hated.

This is an actual cupcake whose icing I hated.

In this light, a large portion of Pinterest's content starts to look largely like the great, white, suburban dreamscape of the 1950s pathologized, now crowd-sourced to showcase today's insecurity with the messier, dirtier, and much less wealthy lives we actually lead. It's an extension of the pleasure machines we've been trained to be: we please the perceived tastes of others with images of things that have little or no relation to who we actually are or what we do — most of which images are of things that are, in themselves, about creating pleasure for others — with hopes of little more than to continue being pleasing.

But this whole thing isn't really about Pinterest. Pinterest is just such a great example as a concentrate of the outcomes of our intensive training. This whole thing is about me, of course, and how this kind of social training has stampeded through and minimized everything I love when it comes to my creativity, and it is the force against which I battle every time I write a sentence or manipulate a graphic.

This is a park I found very depressing.

This is a park I found very depressing.

My kneejerk response is to be cute for you, to be entertaining and witty, and, most of all, to be appealing. This urge to be appealing is a terrible encumbrance to the creative spirit, because it is not about being objectively appealing or complexly appealing, or appealing in ways that point to any kind of meaning.

What we do and create most often ends up being about meeting the perceived needs related to what we think people want and not what their needs actually are or what our own needs might be within that experience, so we are often left creating toothless pap that can be easily digested by the broadest community we can imagine and no one in particular. We try to appeal to the things a community of hundreds or thousands might all agree on like we're all Martha Stewarts selling boring sheet sets. We erase ourselves, and we erase the actual individuals who take part in what we do.

We end up honouring surface wants over the real life meat of who we are and the work that we do.

No wonder it is so easy to lose perspective on who we are and what our actual place and purpose is in the world when we live in a system that works to subvert it entirely into social servitude. How can we know what is important and why it is important to us when we are so often consumed with appealing to and meeting the needs of a question we only imagine people are asking?

Which brings me back to that wonderful moment when Amy Poehler's eyes went black after Jimmy Fallon told her she wasn't being cute. She claimed her right to do it her way whether it appealed to him or not, and that kicks ass. I wish such moments weren't also such rarities.

Fuck what my family thinks. Fuck what super-straight, hetero, white, rich men think. Fuck what my critical friend thinks. Fuck the dictates of religions to which I do not adhere. Fuck what you think. Fuck whatever all of those bodies we perceive as having power over us in some way think. Fuck serving a perception of what everyone's needs are instead of actual people.

This is a bird that died in the snow.

This is a bird that died in the snow.

What do I think? What do I like? What do I love? What do I hold in my hands like a wounded bird that I need to pay attention to? What makes me feel like I have teeth? What makes me feel hopeful? What makes me look ugly but feel happy? What don't you like about me that I would never give up?

That's what I forget too often, and that's what you forget too often, and it's time we remember. Who do we hold up the most over time? Who do we continue to tell stories about and replay and reread and rediscover? It's the people who risked being disliked. It's the ones who risk being ugly and inconvenient and selfish to create the life and art they loved the most.

We most see ourselves, the real and meaty complication of our interiors, when we see it in others, those who let those raw bits of themselves out into the wild to see what will happen, and that is the irony that twists what we've been trained to do on its head. All of the appealing, appeasing, ingratiating servitude we've been trained to see as our being so giving of ourselves is actually the tool that keeps us quiet, controlled, and cut off from each other, cut off from the kind of honest, vulnerable interaction that brings the most joy to people and communities.

The way we've been trained to serve often renders us as little more than machines that do given tasks, and it cuts us off from what it is to truly give of ourselves both to our own beings and to others.

We need to see each other. I really believe that that is the only way to save the planet from whatever mass destructions we can forecast, be they political, economic, or environmental. We need to know each other, and not just the broad, dissociative stuff we put out there to appeal to what we think most people will like most of the time, but what lies beneath that.

I tried to follow my training for years. I smiled for the guests, and then internally chastised myself for not feeling it. I hid the complicated parts of my heart away to keep myself easy to be around, and then felt more alone with more people. I kept my anger under wraps so that others wouldn't have to deal with any inconvenient outbursts, and then felt ineffectual and invisible.

These are kitties!

These are kitties!

You can't give of what you have if you don't know what you've got.

I want our eyes going black to be some kind of religion. I want us to have one holy day every week when we say I am not meeting your needs today. Instead, I am building a sculpture out of the bones from yesterday's chicken. (Or whatever crazy thing feeds your heart.) On that day, we will tend the wounded birds in our hands or the storms in our minds. If our boundaries have been so blurred by our training that we can't quite see our wounded birds or storms yet, then we'll use that day to let the absence of other people's needs help us to figure that out, because we have to strip the walls away, the ones that keep us in line, the walls that keep us from each other.

If I see a real and meaty you, I am better able to recognize the real and meaty me, and then someone else sees that in me and so in turn in themselves, and on it goes. We don't have to devote our lives to appeals for the most minimal levels of social power and acceptance. We can become real and inconvenient and complicated and sometimes ugly and memorable and loveable and honest and bright. We can become known.

* I recognize that Pinterest is growing and changing and that it is being bent to different uses, such as the Humane Society of New York's adoptable pets boards. I merely used my own prior experience with it as it relates to my discussion.

Every person who pins nice things on Pinterest does not fall into the group I describe. There are those like that humane society, those who are actually the handy sorts who make great stuff to show off, and those whose lives actually look like those pictures. There are always outliers.

Grace in Small Things: Sunday Edition #90

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